SYDNEY — Work driving you mad? It may be time to make some changes for a more positive experience at the office. A new study finds that job strain raises a person’s risk of suffering from mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, particularly in middle-age employees.
Stress on the job is linked a slew of immediate negative health effects, from exercising and sleeping less to poor eating habits to an increased risk of suffering a heart attack. Now researchers from the Black Dog Institute in Australia say that workers regularly experiencing a notable level of strain are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition by age 50.
“Our modeling used detailed data collected over 50 years to examine the various ways in which particular work conditions may impact an employee’s mental health,” says lead author Samuel Harvey, an associate professor at the institute, in a release.
Harvey says that workplaces that take action to help reduce job strain — defined as “high work pace, intensity, and conflicting demands, coupled with low control or decision-making capacity” — on its employees can actually prevent up to 14 percent of new cases of common mental ailments.
For the study, Harvey and his team examined nearly 6,900 participants from the UK National Child Development Study. The study followed more than 17,000 participants from England, Scotland, or Wales all born in the same week in 1958, receiving information on their health, education, and socioeconomic outcomes, along with other aspects of their well-being throughout their lives.
Specifically, they sought to find out if participants who experienced job strain at age 45 were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness by age 50.
To reach their results, the authors looked at questionnaires the participants completed when they were 45. The surveys asked individuals about their authority level when it came to making decisions at work, along with questions about job pace, intensity, and conflicting demands. They were also polled on any non-work-related issues like marital problems, financial strain, and other major life stressors.
Then at age 50, the individuals were asked to complete a commonly-used psychological questionnaire that tests for symptoms of common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
After controlling for factors like an individual’s personality, IQ, mental health history, and other related issues over a person’s lifetime, the researchers found that participants who dealt with greater job demands, lower job control, and higher job strain were more likely to have a mental illness at age 50.
“These findings serve as a wake-up call for the role workplace initiatives should play in our efforts to curb the rising costs of mental disorders,” says Harvey. “It’s important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health. But this research provides strong evidence that organizations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.”
Harvey says it’s important for company leaders to place a heavy focus on creating a comfortable and low-stress work environment. One way to do that is to make employees feel more empowered by boosting their level of authority over their work.
“Workplaces can adopt a range of measures to reduce job strain, and finding ways to increase workers’ perceived control of their work is often a good practical first step,” says “This can be achieved through initiatives that involve workers in as many decisions as possible.”
The Black Dog Institute has a “When To Seek Help” section on its website for anyone who believes they may be experiencing harmful levels of job stress.
The full study was published May 10, 2018 in The Lancet Psychiatry.